Why bad boy cities are more seductive

When you arrive in Zurich, you know exactly what's going to happen. 

You'll pick up your bags from the carousel, then make your way down to the airport train station and catch a ride into the centre of the city. The train will be on time. It will also be easy to figure out where you're going, and where to get off. If you do need help, you can ask someone. That someone will speak English. Better than you do. 

On your punctual arrival in the centre of Zurich you'll then take a tram – also on time – through clean, quiet streets to your hotel. Once again, this will be a simple operation to figure out.

And the entirety of your stay in the Swiss business centre will be similarly predictable. Trains will run on time. Shops will open and close when they're supposed to. Everything will be clean and beautiful. The streets will be safe. It's unlikely anything will go awry.

Now, however, you're arriving in Buenos Aires. You're at Ezeiza Airport, which services the city, but is for some reason placed almost in a separate province. You wait by the baggage carousel with fingers crossed. You realise you need local currency, but the two ATMs at the airport have both run out of cash.

You eventually change some money, at an exorbitant rate, and then jump in a clapped out old taxi for an hour-long ride through choking traffic to get somewhere in the vicinity of the city centre. 

At least it's quiet in town today, which you think must be normal, until you find out there's a general strike and no one has gone to work today, which means just about everything is closed. There was talk of the truck drivers parking their vehicles across the highway to close off access to the city, but fortunately that didn't happen.

The entirety of your stay in Buenos Aires will be chaotic. Attractions will open and close as they please. People will go on strike. Taxis will take you on the scenic route. You might even be robbed. 

Sounds like fun, right?


Buenos Aires will never make one of those lists of the world's most livable cities. That's probably because the economy is shaky, the streets are dirty and things rarely work the way they're supposed to. Zurich, on the other hand – clean, safe, efficient Zurich – will always feature.

But if you had to choose a city to visit, to experience as a tourist, I'd recommend Buenos Aires every day of the week. 

I thrive on the chaos. I enjoy the unpredictability. Maybe it's a product of living in such a safe, well-run country as Australia, but when I'm travelling I want a dose of crazy.

Buenos Aires has crazy. It has all sorts of crazy. And it's not the only one. 

Moscow is nuts. It's big and mean and gruff. It has cavalcades of cars with blacked-out windows, soldiers on guard, crowds of locals who don't care who you are and what you're doing there. Just get out of the way. 

But I love it there. I love it far more than St Petersburg, with its history and charm. Moscow feels alive. It feels edgy. 

Give me cities where things go wrong. Give me Lima, where tourists get robbed if they wander into the wrong neighbourhood, but where the arts and culinary culture thrives. It might not be particularly livable, but it sure is interesting to visit.

Give me Rome, where transport workers are on strike again, or the garbage hasn't been picked up, or your wallet has just been lifted from your bag on the metro. Rome is real.

Give me Mexico City, a wild, unpredictable place, an endless sprawl of every type of person in the world. The smog is cloying, the traffic mind-numbing, the public transport unreliable and sometimes dangerous. But Mexico City is life – unfiltered, unbridled and chaotic. 

The world is full of these cities, places you'd maybe never call home, but which seduce visitors with their bad boy appeal. 

There's a heady joy to surviving a day in Mumbai, to knowing that you tackled such a crazy place and pulled through. You haggled with the souvenir sellers, you survived the cab rides, you found all the attractions you were looking for. Nothing could be taken for granted.

The smallest things become story-worthy adventures in places like this. Just crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh City is something to write home about. Going out for a meal in Addis Ababa is different. Taking a shopping trip for souvenirs in Beijing, where arms dart out from market stalls and physically drag you in, becomes an experience you tell all of your friends. 

It's unpredictable, it's unsafe, and it's exciting. 

So here's to chaos. Long may it reign.

What chaotic cities have you been to? Would you go back? Leave a comment below.

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater